Open Educational Resources, Customizing for the Classroom

Posted by Katie Leasor
March 12, 2015
Children in a classroom at a primary school in Afghanistan

My favorite cookbook of all time is Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Unlike most cookbooks that lay out recipes like railroad cars on a track, The Way to Cook offers a master recipe and then includes variations so that home chefs can modify their meals to suit their own tastes. 

The same is true for education and teachers cooking up customized learning materials for teachers to use in their classrooms.

In celebration of Open Education Week, I’d like to discuss how with Open Educational Resources (OER), teachers are able to intimately design how they use educational content that is best to use in their own classrooms for their students.

OER are educational materials produced by one party licensed to be used free of charge, and possibly altered, by others. These resources come in many forms --from curricula to homework assignments, to textbooks, and are available for all levels of education, from kindergarten through college.

There’s an important link between educational content adapted by teachers for their classroom and their students’ academic success. When teachers are more closely involved in the preparation and customization of learning materials, students and school systems across all cultures and subjects routinely perform better.

Professor of Education at Stanford Linda Darling Hammond studies high-performing school systems around the world such as those in Singapore, Sweden, and South Korea.  One of the key conclusions she made about such high-performing systems is characterized by, “teacher involvement in curriculum and assessment development and decision making.” By producing high-quality educational content tailored to a specific classroom, OER also accelerates student learning.

What are some other best practices for using OER in classrooms across the globe?

Through our exchange program focused on OER, education leaders from the Middle East and North Africa last year strengthened their own institutional capacities and began to form a network of OER organizations and individuals aiming to increase access to education in their communities. One alumnus of this exchange, Dr. Fawzi Baroud from Lebanon, created a program to spur civic participation and tackle environmental sustainability in Beirut and worked with other partners he met during the exchange throughout the region. 

But we at the U.S. Department of State recognize that there are additional best OER practices, and want to uncover them with you in order to advise our policies in open education.

That’s why as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), we’re working with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, to jointly host workshops that aim to uncover challenges and opportunities in open education around the world.

By bringing together stakeholders from academia, industry, and government, we will put our heads together to find the best methods that inform good policies in open education. Our Collaboratory unit will also launch a series of pilot programs starting in December 2015 that use open educational resources to support learning in formal and informal learning contexts. The results about these meetings and pilots will be made publicly available for educators. 

We know that OER is revolutionizing how people across the world can access educational content. Now we need, in essence, The Ways to Use OER, to learn how teachers can best use, transform, and customize OER to suit their classroom and students’ needs. I can’t wait to see what they cook up.

About the Author: Katie Leasor serves as a Program Designer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.


Latest Stories